Debbie Harrison is an owner of PR, marketing and copywriting consultancy Casual Fridays.
What are some of the benefits you see small businesses deriving from developing their own blog content?
I'm like a scratched record because I'm always going on about how blogging is a great way to build on the 'know, like, trust' triangle that's essential to doing good business: the more a customer knows, likes and trusts you, the more likely they are to become fans and remain loyal customers.
I also think it's a great way to share a bit of your personality with your customers, to be helpful and to show how well you know your stuff, building on your credibility. And if you pick the right topics, you can attract new traffic - and potential customers - to your website.
Regular blogging can also work wonders for your Google ranking, it keeps you top of mind within your network and it forces business owners to think about issues from their customers' perspectives.
What are some initial things a business owner needs to consider when they're starting blogging?
Just get into it, because the more you write, the better you get. But make a plan before you hit the keyboard - it will save you time. Brainstorm a couple of topics you'd like to write about and then briefly map out what those blogs should include. At this stage I recommend explaining your topic to someone else - it's a fast and easy way to clarify what you need to cover in your article and what you can leave out.
If you're struggling to come up with a blog idea, think about a question your customers frequently ask and write a response to that. I recently found a blog on an accountant's site that shared 86 Ways To Reduce Your Tax - brilliant. It was helpful, practical and clearly illustrated that they know what they're doing. What do you wish your customers knew? Do you have any new technology or developments in your industry or business? What about a case study telling the story of one of your customers who had great results from your product or service?
And remember: this isn't a university essay. A blog is written like one person talking to another, so write it like you'd say it. Be down-to-earth, authentic, straightforward and keep it short.
What are some of the key elements business bloggers need to think about to create engaging content that will actually drive some bottom line benefits to the operation?
Don't write for the sake of it - make sure each of your blogs has a clear message but remember that not all blogs have to have a sales pitch. Blogging can be a bit of a long-game - you want to engage your readers so you further build on your relationship with them, so don't expect to see an immediate ROI.
In saying that, if you mention a service or product you offer, make sure you add a link to that section of your site. And don't forget to offer additional help at the end of each blog - this might be a free consultation, a phone number or email address so people can contact you for extra information or even a lead magnet you've created.
In terms of publishing, what are some tips you have there?
You need to leverage your content by sharing it across multiple channels, so share a few lines of your post on your LinkedIn, Facebook and Google + pages with a link to the article. You can share the article in your next newsletter, and if there's an industry title that might be interested in some of your content, approach them with it - you can get some good PR this way. You can even go a step further and offer another blog your article, with a link back to your website - but choose blogs with a good number of followers and the same target market as yours, otherwise you're wasting your time.
Finally, a good photo can be the difference between a blog that flies and one that flunks, so try searching some of the great free stock photo websites for images that will punch up the interest level of your article.